L.A. Town Hall Speech : Pentagon Aide Calls Cuts ‘Dangerous’

Times Staff Writer

The Defense Department will have to absorb budget cuts of $300 billion between now and 1990 and it is “dangerous nonsense” to believe it can be done without a substantial impact on the country’s military forces and weapons systems, Deputy Secretary of Defense William H. Taft IV said in Los Angeles Wednesday night.

The department will not be able to absorb cuts on that scale without translating them into fewer aircraft, fewer ships, less capable weapons systems and smaller forces, putting the United States into a more risky situation, Taft said in a speech to a meeting of the Los Angeles Town Hall.

He said the defense budget this year is $22 billion lower than originally projected by the department and next year will be $55 billion lower. The 1987 budget will be $64 billion lower than the department believes it needs, the 1988 budget $74 billion lower and the 1989 budget $85 billion lower, he said.

Taft, the Pentagon’s No. 2 official, said it is a myth that Americans need not worry about the military cuts because the budget is so laden with fat that the department can adjust to the big reductions by cutting out waste and ending its spending binge.

Reality is that in the five years that will end in 1989 more than 175,000 active and 85,000 reserve personnel will have to be dropped from original Pentagon projections and that the weapons and equipment needed to overcome Soviet numerical superiority will have to be reduced, Taft said.


Land Force Cuts Listed

As a result of the budget cuts, he said, U.S. land forces, including the Army and Marines, will be able to buy:

- Fewer helicopters and almost 20% fewer anti-tank missiles for their helicopters.

- Nearly 30% fewer Patriot air defense missiles, which will mean a reduction of 22 deployed batteries in a critical military system for ensuring the survival of tactical air and ground forces.

- 20% fewer Bradley fighting vehicles, a vehicle that Taft said “means survival for the foot soldier.”

Taft said 20 warships will have to be cut out of Navy building plans, including the loss of six Aegis ships that will reduce the Navy’s anti-air warfare capability by 15%. In the air, the Air Force will have to reduce its planned purchases of tactical aircraft by 20% and the Navy by 15%, he said.

The budget cuts will also mean that the country can buy nearly 24,000 fewer infrared Maverick missiles and perhaps fewer big transport planes.

“The list of critical weapons systems (that will be) lost goes on and on,” Taft said. “This is not fat that has been cut. This is muscle.”

Taft said that in recent years the federal budget deficit and the country’s military budget have become more and more closely tied in public debate, with people coming to think that cutting the defense budget is synonymous with cutting the deficit.

But while Congress has been cutting the military budget, the nation’s deficit has been increasing and “political rhetoric has largely covered up what can only be fairly characterized as a fraud on the public,” Taft said.